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Tips for Northern Illinois

Colton V

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I will be visiting family over the holidays about 40 miles north of Chicago, Illinois in two weeks. I’ve been many times but not since I started birding so I have opportunity for lifers. I’ll probably only have time for some birding in the morning, but there’s not a whole lot of birds there I need for my life list. Here’s what I’m hoping to get within reason:

- Cardinal

- Blue Jay

- Red-bellied Woodpecker

- American Tree Sparrow

- Eastern Bluebird

- Common Grackle

- American Black Duck

- Eastern Screech Owl

- Eastern Meadowlark

Any tips for good habitats to bird in? There are numerous lakes and forest preserves near where I’m staying. Any tips for finding any of these birds? Any other Midwestern specialties that I’m missing? 

Thanks in advance and I look forward to posting my eBird trip report when I get back!

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Cardinals and Blue Jays should be easy forest birds.  Listen to Red-bellied Woodpecker calls before you go and they shouldn't be any problem either.  Watch utility lines and other perches for Eastern Bluebirds, often in small groups scattered along the lines; the rusty breast usually catches my eye before the blue does, especially on cloudy days or in poor light.

Have you checked eBird for what's been seen in the area lately?

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I don't know too much about Northern IL, but I have a feeling the first six on your list are gonna be pretty easy.

American Black Duck- don't have any experience with them. Just check open bodies of water I guess. @RobinHood seems to see quite a few. Maybe he/she has some tips.

Eastern Screech-Owls seem to vary in abundance from place to place. Check Merlin/eBird bar charts to see how common they are in that area. My best tips would probably be: 

1. Check every tree cavity and crevice. There just may be a little round face peering back at you. 😁 Dead trees are especially good. 

2. Learn their calls, and at night listen for them if you can. They seem to be vocal little birds.

Look for an Eastern Meadowlark the same way you would a Western back home in Oregon. Scan open areas for them and listen for their songs/calls. Western Meadowlarks sing sometimes in the winter, and I have a hunch Easterns do too.

Just my two cents.


Good luck and have a fun trip!! Get lots of lifers!

Edited by Seanbirds
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Pretty much what has already been said.

Black Ducks are fairly common at this time of year, Chicago should be a similar environment to mine so Lake Michigan shoreline or inland water bodies, they are typically in pairs now and often found with groups of Mallards.

Screech Owl - easiest to find a known location and just before sunset check the edges of the wooded area adjacent to open areas, they don't seem to wander far. If you know where a tree cavity nesting site is then they routinely look out at intervals during the day. They are not that common here and tough to find randomly.

Eastern Meadowlark - more of a challenge both here and in the Chicago area (I just checked) at this time of year, but can be found.

The others should be easy. Good luck.

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6 minutes ago, Colton V said:

I have; the area I will be staying is not very heavily birded so I'm not sure how accurate the representation of the species is. 

I like those areas!  Nothing like checking an overlooked area and finding it's chock full of critters.  It doesn't happen every time but for me, it happens more often than not.  And I've sure we've all had those times we've gone to a semi-reliable hot spot and come back with next to nothing.

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11 hours ago, Colton V said:

How could I forget about Tufted Titmouse?!

Look / listen for Black-capped Chickadees and Tufties in wooded areas.  If you can locate them, they'll often be leading mixed flocks with other small species in tow - Downys, sparrows, warblers, etc.  Or, taking it from the other side, if you come across a mixed flock, there's a good chance Tufteds will be in there.

This applies only outside breeding season; mixed flocks fall apart when breeding starts.

Edited by Charlie Spencer
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  • 3 weeks later...

Finally got around to uploading photos and making a trip report. 


I didn't get as much birding in as I hoped, and I was a little disappointed because I missed out on some lifers that should have been pretty easy, but I also got some lifers that I wasn't expecting. Highlights were Snowy Owl, Common Redpoll, and White-throated Sparrow (now I just need to find it in my home county!).

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